DUNEDIN, Fla. - The wind is blowing out to left field, and the Orioles are taking full advantage of it.
Conor Jackson’s home run didn’t need much help. He crushed the ball.
The Orioles have 14 hits in seven innings, three more than the Toronto Blue Jays, and they continue to lead, 6-5.
Kevin Gausman’s fastball was hitting 97 mph in the bottom of the seventh. He allowed two straight singles to begin the inning, but he got a fly ball and a called third strike on a 97 mph heater. The next batter, Lars Anderson, walked to load the bases, but Sean Ochinko also struck out looking at a 97 mph fastball.
Steve Johnson took a few positives out of today’s two-inning start. He felt good physically and he got a strikeout with his slider.
Otherwise, he was a pretty harsh critic.
“Obviously, the results weren’t really what I wanted,” he said after allowing two runs and two hits, with one walk and two strikeouts. “I wanted to go out there and pound the zone. Just couldn’t really get in a rhythm today, especially early.
“Second inning, I felt a little better and pounded the zone a little more. First inning, I just left the ball up a lot.”
Johnson wasn’t pleased with his fastball command.
“I’ve been battling that a little bit,” he said. “It always comes around. It’s just right now it’s a little hit or miss.
“I felt like I threw a lot of good sliders. That was one positive out of today. I got a strikeout on one to end the first. Threw my off-speed pitches for strikes. But fastball command is usually there for me and it just wasn’t there to start the day. The second inning, it kind of got away from me, too, but it will be there. I can do better.”
Johnson prides himself on having good fastball command, which added to today’s frustration.
“That’s who I am,” he said. “I’m not really too worried about it, being however many innings I have in camp. It’s not many. There’s a lot of time for the season to start. It comes around. It’s just, right now I feel good and I’m letting the ball go pretty good. It’s just the height of the ball. It’s not down enough right now. I just left the ball up a lot today.”
Johnson didn’t make a start last spring, so today was a special occasion.
“It was definitely good to get this start,” he said. “I kind of feel honored in a way to get a start here, knowing how the competition is. I know I can do better and I will. It just wasn’t all the way there today.”
Jair Jurjens replaced him and didn’t allow a run for 2 2/3 innings until the last five Blue Jays reached. Three runs scored, the first on Emilio Bonifacio’s RBI triple.
“I feel really good,” Jurrjens said. “I fixed what I wanted to fix. I feel the ball was coming out really good. Walks are a problem for me, especially with two outs. You walk a guy with two outs, he’s going to come around and score somehow. I began to leave some balls up.”
Jurrjens insisted that he wasn’t tiring.
“No, I felt really strong,” he said. “The ball was doing what I wanted it to do. I was throwing more strikes than the last outing. My two-seamer was getting over, and a lot of ground balls. I started to speed my delivery up the last two hitters and I left some balls up.
“I think I corrected everything I wanted to do with this outing. I just need to bear down with two outings. Just keep getting better.
“With this outing, I feel really good about it. My slider, I was throwing it for a strike. I was getting swings on it and getting some outs on it. Changeup is getting better. I struck out one guy, ground ball. I’m throwing it more for a strike. I’m throwing my breaking ball for a strike. That’s the thing I wanted to do today. I just have to keep working and keep bearing down.”
Jurrjens said he began to regain his rhythm during his last bullpen session, which carried over to today’s game.
“My mechanics and all of the delivery was coming together,” he said. “I felt good leading up to today and in the game. I was working on throwing first-pitch strikes and I think it was better than the last one, for sure. I think for me, I corrected a lot of the stuff that needed to be corrected.
Jurrjens is trying to ignore the rotation competition and avoid putting more pressure on himself.
“I’m trying to get better and trying to get back to what I used to be. And that’s it,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can control. I can’t control if the manager decides who is going to win the job. My job is to go out there, try to give the best performance I can and see how it goes.”
And take the victories where he finds them, even if they don’t show up in the box score.
“Last year at this moment, I wasn’t even breaking 90,” he said. “This is a big step for me. I’m seeing the first couple of sliders I throw, see them buckle some knees. And it’s real encouraging to keep working. I’m getting closer and closer to where I’m supposed to be.”
Update: Ryan Langerhans homered off Zach Clark in the bottom of the ninth, Chris Petrini escaped a jam later in the inning, and neither team scored in the 10th, as the Orioles and Blue Jays finished in a 6-6 tie.